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Lessons Learned Coaching Early-Stage Tech Startups



3 min read · Feb 19

About The Author

Lakshmi Shenoy

Over the last year, I’ve had the chance to shape Tampa Bay’s newest startup hub, Embarc Collective and how it supports Tampa Bay’s startup talent. Working directly with our startup community gave me the chance to support passionate entrepreneurs at all stages across various industries (44 companies at the time of writing). Each week I engaged with bright and talented people creating game-changing businesses despite the notorious startup success rate. Being a co-founder of a health tech startup (didn’t work out but learned a TON) and later experiencing the investment side of the table, I had the utmost empathy but also the wherewithal to push them forward

Coaching startup companies requires relentless honesty and candidness with founders and their teams as soon as possible – quick feedback loops. It’s critical to couple hard truths with compassion and empathy, and always deliver the negative feedback privately. Also, by evangelizing courage, and believing in these startups teams, they can push through the troughs of despair and come out on top. Coaching is all about building relationships and getting the best out of people.

My time at Embarc Collective has taught me a few things about motivating startup talent to stay accountable to their goals, and these are also lessons that I encourage founders to use with their teams.

Be coachable

Honesty, humility, persistence, hard work, and a constant openness to learning is critical to success. When coaching, or interacting with people in general, I find the most important thing to do is be fully present and listen with undivided attention. Equally as important, pay attention to the tone and body language of your coachee as this is where the truth is hidden. Make it a habit to respond with a question – ideally, one that reframes the problem, but at least one that draws out more of their thoughts on the matter. Help them think through how the decision should be made. Inspire iteration.

Create milestones you can stick to and be transparent with your team

It’s easy to lose the forest for the trees when building a company. An example of this is over-customization for certain customers, which can be the death knell to some companies – know your ‘no’. By creating a reverse roadmap (starting with the end goal and working backwards to the present), and including team members in the discussion from a feasibility and community perspective, a unified movement is formed. Row in the same direction. Measure progress.

Leverage your community to be accountable

Leverage your peers, co-working mates, or your friends and family to create a support system that can rally you on during the tough days and check-in on you to make sure you’re on task. Be vulnerable and tell them what you’re going to accomplish. Establish frequent, and agreed upon, check-ins to discuss progress and ask for help. Don’t be stubborn.

Know how to ask for help…and listen

Great companies aren’t built alone. It’s important to know when to ask for help and when to muscle through the problem. A solid coach or mentor can help you identify when this is case, but this is also why teams are assembled, right? Oftentimes it’s hard to admit where you’re weak points are when you need to be strong to carry your startup. However, leaning into your weaknesses, accepting them, and asking for help will build you and your business up.

Take care of yourself

Make sure to carve out time in your busy schedule to decompress and pull away from work. Your family, friends and external relationships matter. They help add context to your story and may even remind you of your ‘why’ again. A good coach can help you realize when it’s time to take a break. Be sure to keep your well-being top of mind, as impossible as this may sound.

Building at Embarc Collective and being able to establish the coaching methodology, milestone-based curriculum, pairing companies with their coach based on fit, and overseeing the support of 44 Tampa Bay startups has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. I look forward to supporting the community even further on my next mission.

So, what’s next for me? My long-term professional goal happens to be running an investment fund based here in Tampa Bay. I will be joining Skyway Group Private Equity as a Vice President, and I’m thrilled to begin that journey. My personal email address is, so please keep in touch.

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